SIGNATURES. The Antwerp 6+1

MoMu - Fashion Museum Antwerp

an exploration into the design aesthetics of the Antwerp 6+1

Antwerp Fashion and the 6+1
"How does a city as small as Antwerp produce so many talented designers? Can we speak of an Antwerp style or an Antwerp identity? Such questions as these have been asked by international journalists for the past 25 years." Kaat Debo, Director of MoMu - Fashion Museum Antwerp (2007) 

The ‘Six’ and Margiela (referred to as the 6+1) graduated from the Fashion Department of the Antwerp Academy in 1980, '81 and '82.

By the end of the decade, Dirk Bikkembergs, Ann Demeulemeester, Martin Margiela, Walter Van Beirendonck, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene and Marina Yee were championed by the international fashion press.

They were praised for the way they presented a complete image, how they marketed themselves, and their total control over every detail.

Although each of them developed their own signature, and they have gone their own ways creatively and commercially, the name ‘Antwerp Six’ remains a hallmark to today.

Bill Cunningham, fashion photographer for the New York Times, commented on the division of styles in Paris in 1991:

With half the fashion world in Chanel uniforms, there was bound to be a youthful rebellion. One group of seven Belgian designers has emerged as a force to be reckoned with, and three of them – Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester and Dirk Van Saene – showed collections here this week.

The Belgians specialize in turning clothing inside out, highlighting the inner structure and seaming as forms of embellishment proudly worn on the outside.

The rough edges, combined with more traditionally cut suiting in the work of this group of Belgian designers is comparable to that of Japanese designers Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto a decade earlier.

Similar to the Japanese, the Six+1 designers came to be followed, bought, and admired internationally. The nineties put Belgium on the world fashion map.

Antwerp 6+1
Dirk Bikkembergs
Dirk Bikkembergs considered shoes to be the vital ingredient in male attire. His early shoe collections for men were inspired by ceremonial military footwear with heavy solid leather soles and were made out of horse leather, a tough and resistant material.

In order to create a total look, Bikkembergs showed his first men’s ready-to-wear collection during Paris fashion week for Spring/Summer 1989.
Dirk Bikkembergs’s brand evolved to become a pioneer in the marriage of sports and fashion, with collections stretching from high performance footwear and tailored 'sports couture' garments to a full range of garments and accessories inspired by the athletic lifestyle.

Each collection told a new story: sailors, bikers, race course… but remained nevertheless recognisably Bikkembergs. His image and muse shifted from the ‘tough guy’ to the sportive and healthy male body (mens sana in corpore sano).

Soccer is by far the most popular sport and Bikkembergs understood that famous soccer players are the most popular contemporary idols. This led him to, in 2001, make a statement by showing his collection in the soccer stadium of San Siro in Italy, far removed from the fashion weeks.

Here he presented his first soccer inspired collection with the iconic logo of a dribbling soccer player.

The fashion house then had three main lines: the luxurious Sport Couture line created for athletes in their private time, the more accessible Bikkembergs collection, and Bikkembergs Sport.

One of the challenges was precisely to design a suit with a couture cut that featured the comfortable feeling of a tracksuit, executed in high-tech materials.

In 2003, he was appointed official designer for Inter Milan.

Two years later, in 2005, he presented his collection in the largest stadium in Europe, Camp Nou in Barcelona.

In 2011, the Dirk Bikkembergs brand was sold to Zeis Excelsa SpA, an Italian company that had previously manufactured the company’s footwear under license.

Ann Demeulemeester
Ann Demeulemeester founded her company with her husband and photographer Patrick Robyn in 1985. She held her first runway presentation during Paris fashion week for Spring/Summer 1992. 

In this collection, the silhouettes introduced her delicate modernism with a compelling sense of abstraction, involving a play of flowing lines and artfully conceived cuts.

Precisely these intricate cuts are tangible poetry, key to understanding her work, as they evoke emotion and a rebellious attitude.

The cut of the garments results from a thorough investigation into suggesting the illusion of movement even when the wearer is standing still: how to un-balance the body and how to ‘cut’ a garment so that it could challenge gravity?

In every collection her preference for generating tension by means of contrasts is evident.

Black and white are recurring elements, as Demeulemeester communicates in terms of shadows and shapes, rather than colour and decoration.

The androgynous silhouettes similarly demonstrate Demeulemeester’s preference for generating tension by means of contrasting elements in her personal combination of delicate with rougher materials.

The dove feather plays a critical role. This ‘humble’ feather was integrated in to the designs, as she considered them the epitome of the poetry of the ordinary.

Fashion critics soon recognized and praised the fragile poetry in Demeulemeester’s aesthetic, which was created by a synergy between fashion and music.

In November 2013, Demeulemeester announced she was leaving her eponymous fashion house.

Walter Van Beirendonck
Walter Van Beirendonck is known for his colourful collections, his unique perception of beauty, his intriguing fashion shows, and the socially critical themes touched upon in his designs. His most important collaboration was from 1993 to 1999, with Mustang, the German jeans manufacturers, for whom he designed the W.&L.T. (Wild and Lethal Trash) line for the rapidly developing youth market. 

For W.&L.T., Van Beirendonck developed a new aesthetic, one in which he could combine his fascination for technology, high-tech materials, multimedia, and experimentation with sharp, critical statements.

Van Beirendonck enjoyed experimenting with high-tech fabrics and such innovations as neoprene, reflecting fabrics, and glow-in-the-dark materials.

Prints were treated with perfume so that a print of a strawberry could literally smell like a strawberry.

In the Killer/Astral Travel/4D-Hi-D (Spring/Summer 1996) collection, Van Beirendonck places the tale from the Swiss Alps against the background of the advancing AIDS virus, which reached its apex in the 1990s and devastated the gay community.

Van Beirendonck has a predilection for science fiction, the future, the supernatural, spirituality, and rituals ranging from ethnic initiation rites to fetishism and S&M.

In his world, fashion may be fun, but he does not shy away from controversial themes and social statements in order to communicate his social concerns.

When the collaboration with Mustang came to an end, Van Beirendonck once again relied on more limited budgets and smaller productions.

Since then, his collections under the Walter Van Beirendonck label have reflected a return to his interest in more traditional tailoring and couture techniques.

The collection, Stop Terrorizing our World (S.T.O.W.) (Autumn/Winter 2006–2007) is one of Van Beirendonck's most socially engaged:

I created characters on the backs of the models. In my view, they represent the protagonists that are important in our contemporary world. Mr. Greedy for example stood for America and the fast food industry, Presidents Bush and Reagan, fighting and war.

In 2006, he was appointed director of the Fashion Department of the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Antwerp.

This fashion film was created by Showstudio for Dream the World Awake, Van Beirendonck’s retrospective at MoMu in 2011. Nick Knight and stylist Simon Foxton immortalised the finest pieces from his archive.

The film and his silhouettes reflect how he questions accepted ideas about beauty and sets out in search of alternative images of the body. He works with diverse body shapes, from muscle-bound bodybuilders and robust ‘bears’ to tender boys and fragile Japanse girls to fantasy figures.

Dries Van Noten
Dries Van Noten created his own independent label in 1986. His collections for men and women reflect his fantasies and dreams of exotic places stemming from his imagination...

...while also drawing upon the ethnic and folk traditions of India, China, Africa, and Mexico.

These ideas contribute to his choices of delicate embroidery and refined weaves and fabrics that constitute the printed patterns used in his collections.

Being a passionate gardener leaves its mark in his most famous signature: the colourful floral motifs.

The production of this very embroidery is outsourced to specialized workshops near Calcutta where nearly three thousand people work for him.

For Dries Van Noten, 'Made in India' became a synonym for quality craftsmanship.

He likes to imagine the story of a personage who would wear his pieces and how he or she would combine them.

His works are often directly influenced by art historical masterpieces (Op-Artist Victor Vasarely, Agnolo Bronzino, Francis Bacon, Marc Rothko, Anton Van Dyck, Yves Klein)...

...and by the heroes of his youth from David Bowie to Malcolm McLaren.

These references transcend the literal as for him it is about the suggestive and the feeling these artworks convey in him.

Dries Van Noten often uses what defines the differences between genders to tackle the limits of dress codes:
Men’s garments are made with fabrics regarded as feminine such as lace, while masculine cuts are used in the women’s collections.

These collections share an exotically elegant aesthetic, characterised by expert tailoring and sensual layers of contrasting texture. His extensive and varied collections are presented in fashion shows in unexpected locations that always relate to the theme of the collection.

In March 2017, he celebrated the 100th Dries Van Noten fashion show.

DRIES VAN NOTEN. INSPIRATIONS (February 13 - July 19 2015) at MoMu in Antwerp.

In 2015, Dries Van Noten disclosed his oeuvre in an exhibition for the very first time in his career. Not a classical retrospective, but an intimate journey into his artistic universe, revealing the singularity of his creative process, which illustrated his numerous sources of inspiration.

Dirk Van Saene remains the most enigmatic member of the Antwerp Six. Hailing from a family of painters, Van Saene is an artist who expresses himself not only in fashion, but also in drawings, paintings, and ceramic art. 

In the fashion world, Van Saene follows his own path: since the creation of his first store Beauties & Heroes in 1982, his breakthrough as the first winner of the Golden Spindle contest in 1983, and his latest store DVS, he follows his own rhythm in terms of collections, shows and seasons.

Van Saene sells where and when he wants.

As a one-man business, he has no oppressive shareholders, tight profit margins or a big team, but he designs qualitative and artistic creations that give him a lot of satisfaction: the ultimate luxury.

He presented his first show in Paris in 1990, capturing the spirit of the times, showing fashion the way it existed on the street, ever changing and ever different.

Important sources of inspiration include the work of Louise Bourgeois, the film “Grey Gardens” and its main character Edie Bouvier Beale, tribal motifs and masks and artist Ellsworth Kelly.

The world of haute couture is an important reference: bows, embroidery, and trompe l'oeil motifs refer to the grandeur of the French luxury houses and playfully deconstructs it, for example in the 2D Fake Couture collection for Autumn/Winter 1998-1999.

In the collections he uses hand-painted fabrics or printed reproductions of his paintings on fabric.

Since 2008, Van Saene teaches the Master students at the Fashion Department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp.

Marina Yee
Marina Yee launched her own commercial brand – Marie ­– soon after graduating in 1981. Feeling limited by the demands of running a commercial brand, she launched a smaller designer line under her own name. Although she was very talented, she never felt at home in the fashion world. 

For this reason, Marina Yee has been in and out of the fashion spotlight since the early 1990s, and follows her own path with proper distance from the business side of fashion. She pursues other artistic dreams and expresses herself in different media.

She has collaborated with the Belgian brand Lena Lena and with Dirk Bikkembergs.

Design is and remains a personal journey for Marina Yee. She maintains her own workshop where she makes one-off pieces, often recycling elements from secondhand clothes, giving them a second life, as a commentary on the endless consumer cycle of fashion.

Her style is idiosyncratic and personal, humanity and creativity always come first. She never liked big gestures and prefers to concentrate on content and quality.

Craftsmanship, tailoring, and a powerful female are key.

She is committed to the new generations of fashion designers and teaches at the School of Arts KASK in Ghent.

+ Martin Margiela
In 1988, Martin Margiela and Jenny Meirens established Maison Martin Margiela. Their first pioneering fashion show ‘Café de la Gare’ followed in October of that year. Margiela showed a radically new visual language, with a silhouette – long, with strikingly narrow shoulders – diametrically opposed the power-dressing of the 1980s.

Maison Martin Margiela became known for its conceptual collections, a predilection for deconstruction and recycled materials, shows at unusual locations, and a unique communication style. After founding his own label, he never made a single public appearance.

Nor did he give any interviews in his own name. Interviews were responded to by fax in the first-person plural, as a gesture of respect to the teamwork underlying the creations, and as a statement in response to the celebrity cults that dominated the fashion world of the 1990s.

During several of the shows and photo shoots for Maison Martin Margiela, the faces of the models were made anonymous. Martin Margiela’s oeuvre brings the entire system underlying fashion and its persistent obsession with renewal into question.

The Maison shows the inside of a garment, reveals its construction, and focuses on that which fashion generally anxiously attempts to conceal.

The main collection uses a plain white label with no text, sewn into the garments by hand with four white stitches.

From 1997 to 2003, Martin Margiela designed the women's collections for Hermès.
In 12 successive collections, he designed an Hermès wardrobe that began with three criteria: the highest quality, comfort and timelessness.

Margiela demanded and received carte blanche from the Hermès CEO, Jean-Louis Dumas.

Innovations in terms of tailoring, technique and material, along with a new vision of fashion, led to collections designed from the point of view of the comfort of the wearer, its tactility, rather than the eye of the beholder.

The international success of the Antwerp Six+1 places the Antwerp Fashion Department firmly on the world map and prompts students from all over the world to study fashion in Antwerp.

Where during the early eighties only Belgians graduated from the fashion department, in 2017 the training program consists of more than thirty different nationalities and a total student population of approximately one hundred and fifty students.

Credits: Story

Thanks for the kind image loans from:
Stany Dederen and Martin Bing (MoMu Collection photoshoots)
Boy Kortekaas
Etienne Tordoir (Catwalk Pictures)
Patrick Robyn
Marleen Daniëls
Dan & Corina Lecca

Special thanks to the Antwerp 6+1

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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